For more than three months starting in early April 1994, I was forced to flee from my home with other members of my family, hiding from ruthless Hutu extremists who were intent on eliminating us simply because of our Tutsi ethnic identity. During that period of genocidal madness, me and my family faced death and other forms of extreme violence on multiple occasions, hiding in bushes, ceilings, and shacks and being refused refuge by several families who we believed were friends. I was just fourteen years of age at the time but was tortured and sexually assaulted by a vicious killer and infected with HIV.
I miraculously survived those three months of horror along with my Mom and sister, but my Dad, three of my grandparents, several aunts and uncles, my three young brothers, a number of cousins and many other members of my family and extended family were killed.
I know firsthand the difficulties that genocide, rape, and other victims face in trying to deal with the resulting deep psychological, emotional, and physical trauma. In my situation, I suffered in silence for months after being raped at the height of the genocide, while simultaneously having to deal with other more gravely catastrophic situations which we faced at the time.
I believe that people, especially those in developing countries, need to become more sensitized to the deep-seated trauma that survivors of extraordinary crimes against humanity such as genocide have to cope with, in addition to the effects of other heinous acts such as rape, which is often used as a weapon against female genocide victims. In my case the level and multiplicity of traumas I had to deal with was compounded by the fact that I was also infected with HIV, one of the worst traumas one can imagine.
In my experience, when offenders show no remorse, or members of society display a lack of sensitivity towards victims of severe trauma, this compounds the indignity of what those victims have already been through, and thus has a negative effect on the psyche of those victims and presents greater challenges for them to cope.
My story, as told in my memoir Tested to the Limit: A Genocide Survivor’s Story of Pain, Resilience and Hope, describes how I survived those multiplicity of traumas and how I continue to have a positive outlook on life despite my acquired lifelong HIV-positive status.
Consolee Nishimwe is a survivor of the 1994 Rwandan Genocide against Tutsis and the author of Tested to the Limit. She is a committed speaker on the genocide and a voice for other genocide survivors.